Archive for the ‘Russian oil’ category

The Russian Collusion Story: The Acme of Fake News

July 16, 2017

The Russian Collusion Story: The Acme of Fake News, American ThinkerClarice Feldman, July 16, 2017

Richard Fernandez is one of the most brilliant authors on the Internet. This week he wrote:

Conventional wisdom posits the chief challenges facing the post-Cold War World are Global Warming and the decline of international institutions. But maybe that assurance is a species of Fake News. Suppose the most pressing problems in the next decade is finding new energy supplies to 1) keep the price of oil low enough to contain Russia (and Islamism); and 2) adapting to a disruptive information revolution no one can seem to control. Who will hand you that unconventional wisdom unless you come to it yourself.

He’s right, as I explain, but the significance of his observation is this: which of the two candidates — Hillary or Trump — was more likely to tap into America’s huge energy resources to contain both Russia and the Islamists? And when you answer that as you must — Trump — you can dismiss all the folderol about Donald J. Trump Jr’s, 15 minute meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer as evidence of “collusion” with Russia.  As I further explain, the non-stop media promotion of some nefarious scheme between Russia and Trump does not pass even the most cursory forensic examination, proving once again in the age of fake news, you cannot remain a passive consumer of news. You have to bring to each story the good sense and diligence with which you handle your most important personal affairs.

A. Russia and Environmental Groups

As Fernandez explained:

The oil crash collapsed the ruble and forced a 27% reduction in the Kremlin’s military budget in 2016.  With oil prices set to stay flat the Russians have to keep drilling and investing simply to stay level as the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies notes.  The Kremlin doesn’t make any real spending money until world oil price gets above levels before the great oil crash of 2014, which may not happen any time soon.[snip] You would think this a Eureka moment: to contain oil prices is to contain Russia (and Islamism). But cheap fossil fuels are not everyone’s cup of tea.  “Drill, baby, drill” is not popular on the left.  Even though liberals understand the power of cheap energy — one of Hillary’s supposedly hacked emails even alleged anti-fracking and environmental causes were a Russian plot to depress oil production — to advocate it is bad progressive politics. This probably led the Saudis to Hillary’s camp in 2016. “According to Bob McNally, president of consulting firm Rapidan Group, countries in the oil-producing Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, are hoping for Hillary Clinton to become president.”

If you’re looking for collusion with Russia, it is not to be found in the Trump Tower meeting.  Paul Mirengoff of Powerline details the Russian efforts through environmental groups — at best Stalin’s “useful idiots” — to tamp down US energy production.

 Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science Committee, tells James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal:

If you connect the dots, it is clear that Russia is funding U.S. environmental groups in an effort to suppress our domestic oil and gas industry, specifically hydraulic fracking. They have established an elaborate scheme that funnels money through shell companies in Bermuda. This scheme may violate federal law and certainly distorts the U.S. energy market. The American people deserve to know the truth and I am confident Secretary Mnuchin will investigate the allegations.

To help Sec. Mnuchin conduct such an investigation, Rep. Smith, along with Energy Subcommittee Chairman Randy Weber, sent him a letter. They noted:

According to the former Secretary General of NATO, “Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called nongovernmental organizations – environmental organizations working against shale gas – to maintain dependence on imported Russian gas.” Other officials have indicated the same scheme is unfolding in the U.S.

Reps. Smith and Weber add that, according to public sources including a 2014 report from Republican staff on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, “entities connected to the Russian government are using a shell company registered in Bermuda, Klein Ltd. (Klein), to funnel tens of millions of dollars to a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) private foundation,” which supports various environmental groups. Klein denies this allegation.

Regardless of the conduit for the money, the allegation of funneling appears to be substantial. Indeed, says Freeman, it appears to have been noted by none other than Hillary Clinton:

If a document posted last year on WikiLeaks is to be believed, Clinton campaign staff summarized in an email attachment Hillary Clinton’s remarks on the subject during a private speech:

Clinton Talked About “Phony Environmental Groups” Funded By The Russians To Stand Against Pipelines And Fracking. “We were up against Russia pushing oligarchs and others to buy media. We were even up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians to stand against any effort, oh that pipeline, that fracking, that whatever will be a problem for you, and a lot of the money supporting that message was coming from Russia.” [Remarks at tinePublic, 6/18/14]

Freeman suggests that Mnuchin commence his investigation by speaking with Mrs. Clinton, who “obviously knows the terrain.” He also thinks John Podesta would be a useful source.

Podesta is invested in and acts for a “green energy company backed by the Russian government.”

B. The Media Has lost all Credibility, Serving as the semi-official newsroom for the Democratic Party

Just as Fernandez detailed the rise of Samizdat in Russia as the official press was uniformly distrusted, the growth on alternate media in the U.S. is disrupting the old news models .

Our trust hierarchies have collapsed. As with Soviet Russia, the “official” media sources are now distrusted as purveyors “fake news”.  To fill the gap a peer-to-peer grapevine, similar to the “friends and family”, a samizdat is emerging to pick up the slack. Sonya Mann at Inc uses a startup to illustrate the growing division of society into trust groups. “Pax Dickinson wants to fund the revolution. Not a blood-in-the-streets revolution, but one where hardcore right-wingers can economically secede from the parts of society they vehemently dislike. “We need parallel everything. I do not want to ever have to spend a single dollar at a non-movement business.

Nothing so illustrates why the media has  deservedly lost all credibility than it’s unending, overdone effort to fit any action on the part of the President or those around him into a narrative of Russia somehow colluding with him to defeat Hillary. This week’s take was the short meeting his son held with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower last summer.

The clearest summary of the facts surrounding the meeting with Trump’s son last summer is to be found in The American Spectator.  Scott McKay writes:

[Natalia] Veselnitskaya’s  [The Russian lawyer’s] presence in the United States alone ought to be the source of suspicion that not only is the Trump-Russian collusion narrative suspect in this case but that the real inquiry ought to be into whether the encounter was a small part of a larger attempt to trap the Trump campaign.

The Russian lawyer wasn’t even supposed to be here. She had been denied a visa for entry into the United States in late 2015, but given a rather extraordinary “parole” by the federal government to assist preparation for a client subject to asset forfeiture by the Justice Department. That was in January. The client was Prevezon Holdings, a Russian company suspected of having been paid some portion of $230 million stolen by Russian mobsters. When Sergey Magnitsky a Russian lawyer representing a company that had been the victim of the theft, reported it to authorities in Moscow he was promptly jailed and beaten to death. The American response to this atrocity was the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which sanctioned several individuals connected to human rights abuses. The Russian government retaliated by preventing American adoptions of Russian children.

But in June, she was permitted to fly back to the U.S., have the meeting with Trump Junior  —  at Trump Tower, no less  —  and then end up in the front row for a congressional hearing involving testimony from a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, then turning up at a D.C. showing of a documentary film on the negative effects of the Magnitsky Act, and later appearing at a dinner involving Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and former Rep. Ron Dellums (D-CA) who is now a lobbyist for the Russians. The repeal of that legislation is a priority item for the Russians and a personal project of Veselnitskaya’s; it, rather than any Clinton dirt, was reportedly the primary subject brought forth at the meeting with Donald Trump Jr.

All of this without a visa! Not to mention Veselnitskaya didn’t file a FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) document before acting as a lobbyist for a foreign entity, as required by law. Neither, apparently, did Dellums. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote a fascinating letterTuesday to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asking them to please find out what in the hell Veselnitskaya was doing in this country last June.

And further, it turns out Veselnitskaya was connected to Fusion GPS, the Democrat opposition research firm which employed a former British spy who used Russian contacts to produce the infamous and debunked Pee Pee Dossier smearing Trump. Veselnitskaya hired Fusion GPS head Glenn Simpson to work on behalf of Prevezon, the company she was allowed into the country to represent, in its efforts to repeal the Magnitsky Act. Fusion then hired Christopher Steele, the British spy who drew on Russian sources to produce that dossier, and made him available for private briefings on the dossier with left-leaning media sources such as Mother Jones, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo! News, the New Yorkerand CNN in September.

Naturally, John McCain is involved  —  if that fact should produce his resignation, all of this will have been worth it.

By the way, there is Veselnitskaya’s social media account, which is decidedly more aligned with the Fusion GPS side of this equation than the Trump side.

And the meeting came about largely due to hyped-up promises made by a publicist for a Russian pop star who was connected to the Trump family from the Miss Universe pageant having been held in Moscow in 2013  —  promises which don’t appear to have been fulfilled. If this whole thing doesn’t look like an old-fashioned dangle to you, then you haven’t watched enough spy movies.

If timelines are interesting to you, there is this  —  reportedly, the Obama administration sought permission to electronically monitor Trump Tower in early June, and the FISA court would not grant it. But in October, that warrant was given. [snip]

And once that meeting  —  which on its surface was a waste of everyone’s time  —  was had, the Obama administration now had something to sell to the FISA court to get that warrant  —  from which they snagged Mike Flynn and gave the Democrat party and the media a mechanism to shroud the Trump administration in what can best be described as a rather dubious scandal. Remember how Hillary Clinton was accusing Trump of being a Putin’s puppet at the October 19 debate?

C. Donald J Trump’s son had every reason to believe that there was evidence of Hillary’s collusion with Russia

If this seems farfetched, consider this Veselnitskaya  was barred from entry to the US until Loretta Lynch granted her an excedptional “immigration parole” to appear in a judicial proceeding; a federal judge considered — but we can find no ruling — her motion  on January 6, 2016,to extend her stay by a week, and then  with no explanation of how this occurred, she was back in the US on June of that year  where she met with Donald J Trump Jr and attended as a front row guest a Congressional hearing on the Magnitsky act which imposed sanctions on Russia.

To add a dash of extra color to the story the media reported that with the lawyer was a “former Russian counter intelligence officer”, Rinat Akhmetshin.  He denies this.

“I am an American citizen since 2009 who pays taxes, earned his citizenship after living here since 1994, and swore an oath of loyalty to the United States of America,”

Kayleigh McEnany in The Hill characterized this as a “conspiracy theory desperately in earch of evidence”.

Bill Clinton had given a $500,000 speech in Russia.  Clinton had given her approval in handing one-fifth of U.S. uranium to Russia, after which her foundation received $2.35 million from the Russian-controlled company.  Suspiciously, Clinton did not disclose the transaction.

Likewise, Clinton campaign chief John Podesta sat on the board of a company that received $35 million from the Russian government alongside fellow board members Anatoly Chubais, a senior Russian official, and Ruben Vardanyan, an oligarch.

Given this context, why wouldn’t Trump Jr. be open to taking a meeting that offered evidence of incriminating Clinton dealings with Russia, particularly when most of the media refused to look into Clinton’s question-raising actions?[snip] We likewise know that several foreign countries known for their human rights violations  —  like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Brunei, and Algeria  —  donated millions to the Clinton foundation, and yet few publications construed their “support” in a negative way.

Taken together, the micro story of Donald Trump Jr. seeking opposition research  —  much like Clinton allies did in their dealings with the Ukrainian government  —  does nothing in the way of proving the macro allegation that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in hacking the DNC and releasing Clinton’s illegally obtained emails.

The American people see through this leftist-purveyed Russia conspiracy theory.  That’s why a full 56 percent want Congress and the media to focus on real issues, not Russia.  If the left continues to concoct Russian collusion evidence, they can fully expect for the 2018 congressional elections to look a lot like the special elections in Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, and Georgia  —  Republican victory.  Voters dismiss the salacious in favor of solutions, and as of now, the left have nothing besides an evidence-free smear campaign.

In any event, isn’t it curious that those who claim to consider a meeting to listen to opposition research, bought hook line and sinker the ridiculous-on-its-face Dossier concted by GPS against Trump, a far more likely piece of Russian intel disinformation? Or why they ignore DNC officials meeting with Ukrainian government officials for dirt on then Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Politico detailed the many ways the Ukrainians worked to help Hillary beat Trump.  As you might guess, they indicated these efforts were “far less concerted or centrally directed than Russia’s alleged hacking and dissemination of Democratic emails.” Covering with the word “alleged” a smear without any evidence but for the mutterings of Crowdstrike, a private outfit which was the only investigation the DNC allowed , a misstep by the Comey FBI which let this pass.

In any event, Legal commentators on both sides of the aisle have confirmed there was nothing illegal about the meeting.   I suppose we can’t expect much more of a press corps so stupid it mistakes the Star Spangled Banner for France’s La Marseillaise, and Bastille Day for the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. entry in WW I.

You’ll just have to work harder in the face of such ignorance and bias to find out what you need to know.

Russia and Iran Moving to Corner the Mideast Oil Supply

October 15, 2015

Russia and Iran Moving to Corner the Mideast Oil Supply, American ThinkerSteve Chambers, October 15, 2015

It looks like Vladimir Putin and the ayatollahs are preparing to corner the world’s oil supply – literally.

Last May I wrote on this site that Iran was in the process of surrounding the Saudi/Wahhabi oil reserves, along with those of the other Sunni Gulf petro-states.  I added that, “Iran’s strategy to strangle Saudi/Wahhabi oil production also dovetails with Putin’s interests.  As the ruler of the second largest exporter of oil, he would be delighted to see the Kingdom’s production eliminated or severely curtailed and global prices soar to unseen levels.  No wonder he is so overtly supporting Iran.”

We’ve now seen Putin take a major, menacing step in support of the Iranians by introducing combat forces into Syria.  Many analysts argue that he’s doing this both to protect his own naval base at Tartus and as some sort of favor to the Iranians.  Are those really sufficient inducement for him to spend scarce resources and risk Russian lives, or does he have bigger ambitions in mind?  Given the parlous state of Russia’s economy, thanks in very large part to the recent halving of oil prices, he must relish the opportunity now presented to him, in an axis with Iran, to drive those prices back to prior levels.

The Iranians, for their part, must welcome this opportunity as well, for two huge reasons: first, when sanctions are finally lifted, thanks to their friend in the White House, Iran’s oil production will only aggravate the current global excess oil supply, reducing their cash flow (although they will still repatriate the $150 billion released by the nuclear deal).  They and the Russians must both be desperate to find a way to prevent further oil price declines.  And second, Iran’s mortal sectarian enemies and rivals for leadership of all of Islam are the Saudi/Wahhabi clan, so the prospect of simultaneously hurting them while strengthening themselves must seem tremendously tantalizing.

To achieve this, the Russian-Iranian axis can pursue the encirclement strategy of the Arabian Peninsula that Iran has already been overtly conducting, as I described in May, and is evident by referring to the map below.

195414_5_

Iran and its allies already control the border across the Saudi/Wahhabi Kingdom’s northern frontier, although the Iranian grip on the Syrian portion is tenuous – hence the Russian intervention.  Now Iran is also fighting a bitter proxy war with the Kingdom in Yemen, where Iran is backing coreligionist Shi’ites.  From Yemen, Iran can also threaten the Bab-al-Mandeb that provides access to the Red Sea, multiplying the pressure it already exerts on the Kingdom by threatening the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf from its own territory.

Moreover, Iran is widely believed to be supporting the Shi’a who live on top of the Saudi/Wahhabi oil reserves in the Eastern Province.  The natural affinity between the Shi’a of Arabia and Iran has long worried the royal family and led them to discriminate against their Shi’ite subjects, fostering resentment among them.  Attacks on the Shi’a community early this year have increased tensions.  On top of all that, Iran is reportedly behind the recent Shi’a unrest in Bahrain, which Iran considers it lost “14th province” – much as Saddam viewed Kuwait in the late 1980s.

With this being the current state of the Mideast chessboard, consider how the game can unfold.  With Russian assistance, Iran can save its Syrian puppet and reinforce its defensive enclave in the Allawite homeland in the northwest of its putative boundaries.  Then the combined forces of the axis can turn on ISIS, all the while boasting of doing the world a favor, and reduce its territorial control if not extirpate it entirely.  Of course, the Saudi/Wahhabis will probably do whatever they can to assist their vicious ideological offspring, but it would be hard to bet against the axis.

As the axis pacifies Syria, it can then begin pressure the Saudi/Wahhabis and other Sunni petro-states to curtail their oil production enough both to accommodate the increased Iranian flow and to lift prices back to acceptable levels.  $100 a barrel must sound like a nice target.

The axis’s initial pressure will probably be diplomatic, applied by both principal powers.  However, with Iran’s foothold-by-proxy in Yemen and their influence in the Eastern Province and Bahrain, it could easily foment more general violence against the Saudi/Wahhabis, even within the Kingdom itself.  Iran could likewise twist Bahrain’s arm and thereby rattle the cages of the lesser Sunni petro-states.  Then, by trading a reduction in oil for a reduction in violence, the axis could achieve its objective.

If not, the Iranians could escalate the violence further.  Perhaps ideally from the Iranian perspective, the Saudi/Wahhabis would overreact and provide Iran with an excuse to strike directly at the geographically highly concentrated Arabian oil fields and support facilities.  Iran might not be willing to risk royal retaliation by attacking on its own, but it could be emboldened with Russian backing by air and sea, and perhaps even a nuclear umbrella.  In that scenario, the proud Arabs would be forced to bow to the will of their ancient Persian foes – particularly since it is obvious that the US under its current president could not be relied upon for support.

An attack on the Kingdom’s fields would cause a severe and lengthy disruption of Mideast oil supply, which would dreadful for the rest of the world – but certainly not the worst-case scenario.  Such a disruption would precipitate another nasty global recession and could severely weaken the US, Europe, and China, all of whose economies are fragile and probably brittle.  Thus the damage inflicted could far outlast the disruption itself.  This could be yet another highly attractive incentive for Putin and his ayatollah allies.

So, Putin and the ayatollahs have powerful motives to corner the world’s oil market and therefore the US and the rest of the world are facing an enormous risk.  The horrible pity of this is that the US could easily demonstrate the futility of the Russian-Iranian axis trying to take the world hostage with Mideast oil, simply by opening up our surface deposits of oil shales in the Rockies.  As I showed in this analysis last March, these resources could make Mideast oil irrelevant.

The US’ surface oil shales are completely different from the deep shales that are accessed through directional drilling and fracking and that grab all the headlines; the deep shales are a mere side show in terms of reserves.  The surface shales hold up to 3 trillion barrels of oil versus about 50 billion barrels of tight oil accessed by fracking.  The total global proven reserves of oil are 1.6 trillion barrels, and the Canadian tar sands have 1.6 to 2.5 trillion barrels (although they’re officially listed at 175 billion barrels, which are incorporated in the global total).  So, the US and Canada together essentially can triple the global supply of oil, and at prices in the $60-75/barrel range.  Meanwhile, Mideast reserves are about 800 billion barrels – half of Canada’s oil sands, perhaps less than a third of the US surface shales.  The world no longer needs the Muslim oil.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Rockies surface shales sit on Federal land, and while George W. Bush opened up those lands for development, Obama rescinded that policy.  These reserves now sit almost entirely idle.

As with any petroleum deposit, these surface shale reserves can’t be turned on with the wave of a wand.  But they can be opened for development with just a pen, and not even a phone.  For the protection of this country, and the good of the world, our current president should immediately open these reserves for development, with great fanfare.  If he will not use our military to protect our interests, he should at least use our economic weapons.

There is no time to lose.  Russia is on the march, in unison with the emboldened and enriched Iranians, thanks again to our president.  Putin and the ayatollahs know they will enjoy only another 464 days with this president and that none of his likely replacements will be so complacent and flexible, to use his own term.  We should therefore expect that they will want to make as much hay as they can while the sun reflects off of Obama’s insouciant grin.

 

Russia’s endgame in Syria: Follow the Money

October 7, 2015

Russia’s endgame in Syria: Follow the Money, Center for Security Policy, John Cordero, October 6, 2015

(Is Putin engaging in a holy war against the Islamic State, an oily war or both? — DM)

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The one strategic motivation for Russia that has been widely ignored is the economic one.  Qatar, the richest country in the world per capita and also owner of the world’s largest natural gas field, proposed in 2009 to jointly construct a gas pipeline running through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and into Europe.  Assad, not wanting to provoke Moscow, refused to sign on.  Instead, he floated an alternative: an Iran-Iraq-Syria and possibly Lebanon pipeline, to then follow under the Mediterranean to Europe. The Qatar-Turkey pipeline would run through majority Sunni countries with the exception of Syria’s Alawite regime. Assad’s counter proposal follows the Shia crescent.

Russia, not wanting to lose its primary market in Europe, is adamantly opposed to a prospective Qatari project.  A military presence in Syria will guarantee that even if Assad is removed from power, the pipeline will not be built.  It will look on favorably to the Iranian proposal, provided Gazprom and other state-owned companies get their share of the pie.

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As Vladimir Putin orders airstrikes against rebels of all stripes fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, there are important strategic economic goals behind Russia’s actions in Syria.  The short term goal is easy to discern: prevent Assad’s collapse as no alternative suitable to Russian interests exists, preserve Russia’s only naval base in the Middle East at Tartus, and promote Russia both at home and abroad as a world power that counterbalances American hegemony.

Much of the media has focused on Putin as a personal driver of Russian behavior.  While forays into Georgia and Ukraine have accomplished the tactical goals of preventing increased European Union presence in Russia’s sphere of influence, these have come at a high cost both politically and economically in the form of isolation and sanctions. Putin seems to have concluded that intervening in Syria in the name of fighting terrorism can only help repair Russia’s battered image.

It is important to at least try to understand Putin’s motivation without delving too much into psychoanalysis.  He is on record as lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”  In power since 2000, the former KGB officer is an ardent Russian nationalist, a promoter of a personality cult concerned with his country’s standing and perception in the world.  With his career spent in the service of the state, he is not one to take a background role in world affairs. Putin has effectively used Russia’s alliance with Iran as an effective tool to undermine the US, both regionally in the Gulf and globally with the nuclear deal.

The current buildup at Tartus and Latakia is nothing new: since Hafez al-Assad’s rise to power in 1970, the Former Soviet Union and then Russia was and is a stalwart ally, long attempting to position Syria as a counterbalance to American and Israeli military superiority in the Middle East.

Russia’s actions are also a message to the world: unlike the US, which abandoned long-time ally Hosni Mubarak during his time of need in Egypt, Russia is prepared to intervene, militarily if necessary, to preserve a friendly regime in danger.  Therefore, it pays for autocrats to court Moscow, especially if they possess valuable resources or are in prime strategic locations.

While Vladimir Putin ostensibly espouses the acceptable goal of a global alliance against IS, the strategic context is that he has entered into a sectarian alliance with Shia Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the proxy army Hezbollah (The P4+1) against the American-backed Sunni alliance of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and the UAE, all of whom insist that Assad has no future in Syria.

Through its airstrikes, Russia continues to advance the prior Syrian strategy of focusing efforts against pro-Western rebels, with the recognition that, while dangerous, the Islamic State is the one party in the conflict the West will never support.

The Islamic State will take advantage of both the respite, and the propaganda value of being the recognized number one enemy of the infidel coalition, which it uses to rally supporters simply by pointing out that its enemies are gathering to destroy the renewed Caliphate.

The one strategic motivation for Russia that has been widely ignored is the economic one.  Qatar, the richest country in the world per capita and also owner of the world’s largest natural gas field, proposed in 2009 to jointly construct a gas pipeline running through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and into Europe.  Assad, not wanting to provoke Moscow, refused to sign on.  Instead, he floated an alternative: an Iran-Iraq-Syria and possibly Lebanon pipeline, to then follow under the Mediterranean to Europe. The Qatar-Turkey pipeline would run through majority Sunni countries with the exception of Syria’s Alawite regime. Assad’s counter proposal follows the Shia crescent.

Russia, not wanting to lose its primary market in Europe, is adamantly opposed to a prospective Qatari project.  A military presence in Syria will guarantee that even if Assad is removed from power, the pipeline will not be built.  It will look on favorably to the Iranian proposal, provided Gazprom and other state-owned companies get their share of the pie.

Pipeline politics in the region have a long and varied history of Russian involvement.  The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline was built only after Moscow’s demand for an alternative pipeline for Azeri oil to Russia was met.  During the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, US intelligence officials determined that an explosion on the pipeline near the Turkish-Georgian border was carried out via Russian government cyber warfare.  Days after the explosion, Russian fighter jets bombed positions in Georgia close to the pipeline. Although the BTC pipeline was built precisely to avoid Russian interference, the Kremlin has never let that stop them.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have also begun construction on a joint natural gas pipeline, theTANAP. This project’s stated goal is to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian natural gas, a prospect that cannot please Moscow.   Both the BTC and TANAP bypass Armenia, a Russian ally and wary of its neighbors in the Caucasus.

As the endpoint for the Qatari project, Turkey is adamant in calling for Assad to step down or be removed, which dovetails with the proposed Sunni pipeline.  By clearing the way through Syria, Qatar and Saudi Arabia can receive a handsome return on their investment in backing jihadis fighting Assad.  On the other hand, Iran will not sit idly by and leave potential billions of dollars in the hands of its ideological and regional enemies.

Russian intervention in Syria is just beginning. There is every possibility that it will expand as more targets are found, perhaps those that are in the way of the proposed Iranian pipeline, directly threatening Damascus and by extension, the Russian monopoly of gas exports to Europe.  For the time being, Putin has the world’s attention.